Poetry News

School board members deserve testing too?

By Harriet Staff

In April 2009, Al Filreis posted the full-length New York Times story from May 2, 2000, about the New York Board of Education finding in their mailboxes some odd reading material from the interim school board chancellor, Harold O. Levy: three Wallace Stevens poems. As the Times noted, he had attached a memo: "Poetry...can give voice to the inner souls of people who lead seemingly mundane lives.''

The article went on:

Then came the news that Mr. Levy was planning a series of lectures, intended specifically for the enlightenment of the board members. The first, scheduled for tomorrow night, will be on cosmology. That is, the study of the universe.

And next week, Mr. Levy will gather the school system's 43 superintendents for a group violin lesson at Carnegie Hall, taught by none other than Isaac Stern.

What is going on here?

If the school system's top officials did not have enough to worry about, with Mr. Levy pushing them to be more efficient and accountable, now he wants them to think more, too. Music and poetry are among the more esoteric parts of his plan to raise the level of debate on education policy, he says. That means focusing less on administrative minutiae, and adding intellectual rigor to the often tedious board meetings.

But it's a different era, with libraries under serious threat, teachers facing more testing and less job security, corporatization of the academy, and well, you've heard. Today, on Jacket2, Filreis posts a letter sent to the Times in response to the aforementioned article, which relates the reaction of a school board member at the possibility of receiving the poems: "'Probably if I had gotten it I would have thrown it out,' [she] added: 'I'm not a poetry kind of person. I like serial killer novels.''' The letter concludes by saying some of the school board members might do well with being tested themselves. Here's to opening the debate.

Originally Published: May 20th, 2011
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